Winner of Sports Personality of the Year Beth Mead has accused leading football authorities of failing to act to address the number of women’s ACL injuries in sport. Claiming they would have acted quicker if the injury was plaguing male players, she is now calling for an official enquiry to be carried out.
The 27-year-old football player is one several elite female players to have suffered an ACL injury. So, what is an ACL injury and why might they be more prevalent in female athletes?
What is an ACL injury?
ACL stands for Anterior Cruciate Ligament, which is a ligament in the knee joint that helps to stabilise the knee. An ACL injury is a tear or sprain of this ligament and is common in athletes who participate in sports that involve sudden stops, changes in direction, or jumping, such as football and rugby.
ACL injuries can range from mild sprains to complete tears and can require surgery and a significant recovery period.
Why are ACL injuries more prevalent in women athletes?
There are several reasons why ACL injuries tend to be more common in female athletes. One reason is the differences in anatomy. Women have wider hips and an increased Q-angle (the angle between the hip and knee), which can increase stress on the knee joint.
Hormonal differences may also play a role, as changes in oestrogen levels during the menstrual cycle can affect ligament strength and stiffness. Also, differences in movement patterns and neuromuscular control may contribute, as females tend to have greater knee valgus (knock-knee) and less quad dominance, which can increase the risk of ACL injury.
Training programs that address these factors, such as neuromuscular training and strengthening exercises, can help reduce the risk of ACL injuries in female athletes.
Treating an ACL injury
The treatment of ACL injuries depends on the severity of the injury and the individual patient’s goals and needs. In general, there are two main options for ACL injury treatment: non-surgical and surgical.
Non-surgical treatment typically involves rest, ice, compression, and elevation (RICE) to manage pain and swelling, as well as physical therapy to help restore range of motion, strength, and stability in the knee. This may be the best option for individuals with partial ACL tears or mild instability, as well as those who do not participate in high-risk sports.
Surgical treatment involves reconstructing the torn ACL using a graft, typically from the patient’s own tissue or from a donor. The surgery is performed arthroscopically, which involves small incisions and the use of a camera and instruments to guide the repair. After surgery, physical therapy is typically required to help restore strength, flexibility, and function in the knee.
The decision to pursue non-surgical or surgical treatment depends on several factors, including the severity of the injury, the individual’s activity level and goals, and the presence of other knee injuries or conditions.
Knee surgeon Mr Jonathon Webb specialises in treating sports injuries in both professional and amateur players; book a consultation today to discover the best treatment option for you.